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How To Prep Cabinets For Painting

One of the first steps when painting your kitchen cabinets is prepping your cabinets for painting.

This post is for those of you who are specifically looking for the exact process of how to prep kitchen cabinets for painting but aren’t necessarily looking for details on the entire kitchen cabinet painting process.

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

If you do want more info on how to paint your kitchen cabinets, I wrote a huge post detailing every little aspect of kitchen cabinet painting here called How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like A Pro. Check it out!

How To Prep Kitchen Cabinets For Painting

How to prep kitchen cabinets for painting - Plastic over all cabinets and countertops.

Clean The Room

The first step of any painting project is to get the room clean. You cannot efficiently work in a dirty or cluttered room. Also, dirty floors and countertops will surely lead to dust and debris in the finish of your paint.

Remove everything form the room you possibly can. The countertops and floors should be free and clear. If possible, roll your fridge out to another room to make even more room for painting. Microwaves and stoves are typically not removable and will need to be prepped off for painting.

Sweep and shop vac all the floors. If they are really filthy, go ahead and wash them. This will ensure that your tape will stick when covering the floors.

Cover The Floors & Countertops

Tapped and Covered Floors

Once you have the room cleared, the next step is to get the floors covered.

Start by taking a roll of 1.5″ tape (I prefer Frog Tape for this project) and taping off the edges of the floor next to the walls and cabinet bases. Make sure to press the edges of the tape down firmly so that no paint leaks under the tape and onto your floor.

Frog Tape is great for this because it has a super absorbent polymer (just like Orbeez!) in the tape which makes it expand and seal out paint when the paint touches the tape and gets it wet.

Next, take a roll of 3-foot brown rosin paper and roll it out one strip at a time over the floor. Once you have one strip rolled out, tape down all of the edges. Repeat until you have the entire floor covered.

Remove All Handles and Pulls

The next step to prepping your kitchen cabinets for paint is to remove every handle and pull from your cabinets.

There is really no explanation needed here. Just remove them!

Remove Doors, Hinges, and Drawers

After all the pulls and handles are removed you’ll want to remove the doors and hinges from the cabinets.

At this point, a little pre-planning can save you hours of work later. You want to label the doors to the exact location they were removed from as you take each door off.

Label Your Doors!

What I like to do is take a pen/pencil and write the number 1 on the first door under where the hinge was. Then, I put a small piece of tape over the number I just wrote on the door. I also write the number 1 on a small piece of tape and place this somewhere inside the cabinet that the door just came off of.

Since I write the number on the door where the hinge was and tape over it when I am done painting the door, I can remove the tape and see the number I wrote and its in a place that won’t show when I re-install the door.

When you go to put all of your doors back onto your cabinets, you will be thankful that you can simply match up your numbers and place the right cabinet door in the right spot.

I personally don’t label my hinges. I expect to have to re-adjust all the hinges when I go to re-install the cabinet doors. On most modern hinges, adjustment is easy and should take you only a half an hour to adjust all your doors when you are done.

Remove and Label Your Drawers

Most drawers should slide right out without any issues. Some have a latch on the bottom that allows you to remove the drawer.

For labeling the drawers, I simply write a number on the back of the drawer (which won’t get paint) and place a piece of tape labeled with the number inside where the drawer went.

Plastic and/or Tape Off The Insides Of Your Cabinets

Prepped Kitchen Cabinets For Painting
Cabinets with insides prepped off.

I have seen some homeowners who want to have the insides of their cabinets painted, but most don’t want this. Personally, I prefer when the insides of cabinets are not painted. I think it looks better, is easier to maintain, and adds unnecessary cost to the project.

If you plan on spraying your cabinets, you will want to plastic off the entirety of the insides of your cabinets to prevent over-spray from getting into the cabinet boxes.

However, if you are brushing your cabinets (or even just the boxes), then a strip of tape around the inside edge of your cabinet boxes will be sufficient.

The Best Painter’s Tape For Every Surface

How To Prep Cabinets For Painting 1
Enameled Cabinets After (but before putting door back on)

PRO TIP: To plastic off the insides of your cabinet boxes, use a 3M Hand Masker Dispenser.

Take your Hand Masker Dispenser and run a stip of plastic and tape along the top inside edge of the cabinet box.

How To Prep Cabinets For Painting 2How To Prep Cabinets For Painting 3

Next, take your Frog Tape and run a strip of tape around the inside edge of the 3 remaining sides of the cabinet box.

Now carefully pull out the plastic and tuck it along the edge of the frog tape that you just applied.

This method takes a few tries to get the hang of, so don’t get upset if you have to re-try on a couple of cabinets to get it right.

Paper / Plastic Off Your Drawers

When I paint kitchen cabinets, I don’t paint the insides of the drawers. There is no point to it and I don’t think it looks nice. Similar to how I don’t like painting the insides of the cabinet boxes.

To prep off the drawers, I take my 3M masking machine and wrap a piece of paper around the entire drawer. I like to use 18″ wide rolls of paper for this. 18″ should be long enough for most drawers, but if it is not, just switch your machine over to some 24″ masking plastic or longer.

Getting Ready For Paint – Cleaning and Sanding

Now that your floors are covered, doors and drawers are removed, and the insides of your cabinet boxes and drawers are prepped off, the next step in getting your cabinet ready for painting is cleaning and sanding.

Cleaning usually only involves washing all the surfaces with a rag and warm water. However, you may find that some cabinets are a bit greasy and grimey, especially above stoves. I’ve found that a couple of drops of Dawn dish soap and warm water can clean this grease off really quickly.

Once everything is clean and dry, you’ll want to sand all of the surfaces that are to be painted.

This sanding is really to scuff the surface and make it so that your primer can properly bind to all the surfaces.

If there are any old runs in the paint or clear coat on your cabinets, now is the time to smooth them out and get the runs out with a little extra sanding.

There is no need to oversand though. A thorough, but light sanding is all that is required.

Once your sanding is complete, you’ll want to shop vac up any dust created from this step. Lingering dust can easily end up in your finish making your painted cabinet rough.

Extra Steps Before Painting

Different cabinet painting projects may require additional steps before painting.

For example, if you plan on painting oak cabinets and want to have them be as smooth as possible when you are finished. For this project, you will have to apply a grain filler. I cover How To Fill Wood Grain On Kitchen Cabinets in this post.

Now that we’ve covered how to prep cabinets for painting, you should be all ready to start painting your kitchen cabinets.

If you have any questions while working on your project, please feel free to ask me anything in the comments below. I always answer every question as soon as I can!

Ready To Learn More?

Check out our Painting Kitchen Cabinets hub page for everything you could want to know about cabinet painting including costs, how-tos, reviews, and more.

Christine Hartung

Sunday 13th of February 2022

What kind of caulking do you recommend to fill gaps and cracks in cabinetry before priming?


Wednesday 23rd of February 2022

DAP Acrylic Latex Interior Door and Window Caulking works great!!


Monday 23rd of August 2021

Hi. I going to try to use the 3 plus sheet rock to paint on to cover the grain. Once I remove the old hinges on the exterior of the cabinet should I fill those holes with this as well? Would you recommend just getting new exterior hinges or filling the holes and installing new interior hinges? Thanks so much!


Tuesday 24th of August 2021

Hi Lisa,

Hinges is more about the look you're going for and your skill level. If you are comfortable changing your hinges to interior hinges, then before you paint is probably the perfect time to do it. Also, the plus 3 method is for filling grain, if your hinge holes are really big, I would use a harder drying wood filler, especially if you may have to drill into part of it when installing new hinges. Good Luck!


Tuesday 10th of August 2021

Hi Ryan. I am in the process of painting my unpainted kitchen cupboards and cabinets. To start with I have cleaned and sanded my cupboards. I have applied one coat of SW Pro Mar 200 primer. My question is how many coats of primer do you recommend? 2-3? And is it necessary to sand the primer after each coat?


Saturday 14th of August 2021

Hi Glen,

Typically, if applied well, only one coat of primer is necessary. BUT, multiple coats of primer can be beneficial. By applying 2 coats of primer, you can get more build-up of the primer which allows you to sand more without going through the primer and ultimately achieve a smoother finish. This is a technique I use when painting oak cabinets (I call it a primer "flood coat") and helps me achieve an amazingly smooth finish and eliminate graining.

Sanding in between coats of primer is not necessary. I only sand after the last coat of primer.


Friday 2nd of April 2021

Ryan, What's your thoughts on stripping prior to sanding with a product like Citristrip? My plan is to paint and glaze my Red Oak cabinets which currently have the original pickled finish. I tested stripping the back of a door and it seemed to do a really good job but it will be very time consuming. I'm willing to put in the elbow grease though if it's worth the effort in the end. Thanks for the super helpful website and offering to answer questions.


Monday 5th of April 2021

Hi Mike, I personally don't strip cabinets. The reason is that it simply isn't cost-effective for clients to pay me to do this. Another reason is most of the cabinets I paint are not previously painted. I've found that on previously painted cabinets, usually sanding them to a smooth finish works great. But if you have the time and don't mind the extra work, stripping can only help. Good Luck!